Heartworm disease is a common disease that can pose as a danger to your pet. This disease is commonly seen in dogs, cats, and ferrets. A parasitic worm called “Dirofilaria Immitis” or more commonly known as heartworms causes it. Heartworm is the common term for this parasite because it lives in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of your pet, and can cause heart failure. Your pet contracts this disease through mosquito bites.  Mosquitoes transmit larval heartworms from one dog to another by sucking the blood of an infected dog at the same time regurgitating a little blood when they bite their next victim.

If you look at this parasite’s life cycle you can understand how to better protect your pet. Dogs are the definitive host for this parasite, which means that the worms mature, mate and produce offspring while living inside your dog’s body. Mosquitoes are the intermediate host, which means that the worm in its larval phase lives inside a mosquito for a short period of time before it becomes infective and cause heartworm. Heartworm is not contagious; it is only spread through the bite of mosquitoes.

Heartworm disease is most common in southern states, and since these areas have mosquitoes present all year-round, you will need to take extra precaution to protect your dog with heartworm preventative medicine throughout the year. While northern states that experience freezing temperature should only give heartworm preventative medicine during the spring and summer months.

There are many pet medication products available to protect your dog from this parasite, but you will need a prescription from your veterinarian before you can purchase them. Your veterinarian can check your dog with a simple blood test to find out if your dog is infected with heartworms. Prevention is the best protection from heartworms. Your veterinarian can advise you on when to start your dog on heartworm preventative medicine. It is important to have your dog checked for heartworm annually.

Keeping your pet indoors more during summer months can help in protecting your pets from getting heartworms. It is also hard to predict if your pet is infected with heartworm, because they can appear to be healthy outside while inside the parasites can be thriving. The symptoms of this infection may not be obvious in dogs that have a few worms or have been recently infected. It takes about 6-7 months for the parasite to mature and start causing serious harm to your pet. These are some symptoms of a heartworm infection; occasional coughing, tiredness after moderate activity, trouble breathing, and general loss of body condition. In some severe cases dogs develop caval syndrome, which is life threatening. Caval syndrome occurs when there are a large number of adult heartworms blocking the heart’s vena cava this can lead to death. Not all dogs with heartworm disease develop caval syndrome. But if heartworm is left untreated, this disease can damage your pet’s vital internal organs.